Los Banos man convicted in shooting of stepfather

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 14, 2013 

— A Los Banos man accused of shooting his stepfather during an argument over $1,600 was convicted of attempted murder Thursday by a Merced County jury.

It took a little more than two hours for jurors to find Alejandro Sanchez, 33, guilty in the Feb. 1, 2012, shooting of Rito Ramos, 45, at a residence in the 300 block of Pomelo Avenue.

Sanchez is scheduled to be sentenced March 28 by Judge Mark Bacciarini. Sanchez faces a sentence of 40 years to life in prison.

Deputy District Attorney David Sandhaus called the case "tragic," saying his thoughts are with Sanchez's parents.

"It must have been really traumatic for them to have to testify against their own son in this case, and my heart goes out to them," Sandhaus said.

The defendant had a prior strike on his record over an assault conviction for cutting his mother's face with a box cutter, Sandhaus said.

According to Los Banos police, officers responded to the scene at 5:44 a.m. for a report of shots fired and found the victim with gunshot wounds to his upper body. Ramos identified his stepson, Sanchez, as the shooter.

Police reported arresting Sanchez as he was trying to flee the area.

Sandhaus said the defendant, who lived with his parents, apparently owed his stepfather $1,600. The pair was arguing over the money when the shooting occurred.

During the argument, Sanchez asked Ramos, "Are you threatening me?" When Ramos answered that he was, Sanchez pulled out a gun and fired.

Sandhaus said the defendant kept firing at the victim even when he was on the ground, shooting him five times. Ramos testified the defendant also put the gun to his head and fired, but the bullet just grazed the victim.

"He's a lucky guy to be alive," Sandhaus said of Ramos.

During closing arguments, Deputy Public Defender Michael Coughlin told jurors there was a lack of physical evidence against Sanchez.

For example, Coughlin said fingerprint tests taken from the gun were inconclusive, and that there's no DNA evidence against his client.

Coughlin told jurors if his client did pull the trigger, he did so impulsively and without careful consideration of the consequences -- but not with premeditation, as the prosecution alleged.

Sandhaus countered during his rebuttal that in order for the defendant to be not guilty, both of his parents would have to be lying. "It's heartbreaking to (the defendant's parents), but they feel their son has to take responsibility for his actions," Sandhaus said.

Sanchez was on parole at the time of his arrest, according to police. He'll be eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of his sentence.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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